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Monday, March 27, 2006

YouTube and the New Economics of Entertainment

You have probably seen "Lazy Sunday," the Saturday Night Live rap video starring Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell.  (There has been a follow-up rap with Natalie Portman, with somewhat more profanity and perhaps less success.)  The video really hit it big on the Internet via YouTube, a video-sharing site.  YouTube allows the posting of copyrighted works but removes them once the copyright holder objects.  "Lazy Sunday" was up on YouTube for quite a while until NBC ultimately objected.  As the folks at boingboing pointed out, NBC should have been sending flowers, rather than objections, since YouTube gave the video a ton of additional exposure.  (The video is now at the SNL site.)

There are two "Lazy Sunday" follow-up videos: "Lazy Monday," a video about two guys in L.A. during a MLK holiday, and "Lazy Muncie," a story of two guys defending the street cred of Muncie, Indiana.  Both are non-SNL videos put up on YouTube by independent producers.  Although the Muncie guys are not the midwestern amateurs they appear to be (see here), they certainly had no network or cable platform from which to launch their video.  Instead, YouTube gave them a free launching pad.  They make no money, but they do get links and exposure.

Folks like Mickey Kaus and Rob Long of Martini Shot have written about the implications of this new phenomenon.  Kaus believes it validates Glenn Reynolds' thesis in An Army of Davids.  Long believes it will up-end the entertainment industry, since it will draw comedic talent from across the country in a way that SNL, with its limited number of cast members, cannot do.

Cynics might point out that "Lazy Monday" and "Lazy Muncie" were parodies of a commercial product that were made by folks arguably looking to make it big in Hollywood or New York themselves.  And that's true.  But it's also true that people are open to watching entertainment from any source -- as long as it's entertaining.  The Muncie guys may need a reference point like "Lazy Sunday" to get their foot in the door.  But maybe their next video won't be a parody -- and their "Muncie" exposure will get people to watch it.

Open-source software has shown that freely produced software can create a sizeable market niche for itself, despite the lack of monetary market incentives.  Yochai Benkler has written about the many ways peer production has changed and will change the economy.  There are lots of ways peer production could change our methods of creation (including casebooks).  But entertainment has its own appeal.  Perhaps in the future you or your kids will achieve national fame from a rap video about what you do on a typical afternoon.

Posted by Matt Bodie on March 27, 2006 at 09:59 AM in Culture | Permalink


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The Natalie Rap is at least as funny, Matt!

Posted by: Ethan Leib | Mar 28, 2006 2:28:56 PM

It's a culture model but not a business model. Like the homeless that will work for food, the jobless and/or underemployed will work for fame. But if everybody's working for fame, who's keeping the money economy afloat? We need to afford the cheap electronics and DSL to keep filming and uploading ourselves.

Posted by: MT | Mar 28, 2006 12:11:14 AM

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